By Grace Gardener
Something I have struggled with a lot during my reading is having to compromise on beliefs and values. One of my favourite genres is fantasy, a world in which authors can easily make their characters do immoral things under the name of necessity. This bothers me a lot, because I don’t really want to read a book that goes against my worldview. There’s only so many times you can say: “Ah, well, yes, I guess the protagonist is a murderer and yes, what he did there wasn’t a good thing to do at all, but I’m enjoying this book and of course there’s good parts as well, so, you know… I’ll ignore it.” It saps the fun out of things.
The Ravenwood Saga
To solve this problem, I recently looked up “Christian YA literature.” I didn’t expect there to be more than Narnia and LOTR. There was a lot more. My phone is currently filled with at least 20 Christian books in the genres I love. And the very first series I came across was The Ravenwood Saga by Morgan L. Busse. It was the best introduction to Christian teen books I could have gotten. The series features 18-year-old Selene Ravenwood, heir to the house of Ravenwood and its gift of dreamwalking. Her house follows the Dark Lady, and uses its power of manipulating others’ dreams for evil. But when she meets others who follow the Light, her entire world changes, until she must choose: will she betray her family or will she help the Empire that is trying to rout the Seven Houses?
The very first scene features the women of house Ravenwood worshipping the Dark Lady. This difference between the dark and light sides of the spiritual world are basically what the entire book revolves around. As someone who has seen the effects of ancestor worship, I thought the feeling of fear and hatred seen in followers of the Dark Lady very recognizable. I’m very happy the author decided to tackle this topic of spiritual battle, especially in a day and age where we often don’t want to acknowledge the existance of demons or Satan. The difference between followers of the Light and followers of the Dark Lady is very clear: followers of the Light are less ruled over by their fear and live happier lives, caring for others as if they are equals. The Light is obviously this world’s version of God, and the characters have a strong relationship with him (no capitalisation). The Light has given each of the Houses their gifts to do good with. Over the years, a lot of the houses have subverted these gifts for evil, a lot like how people in the real world can use their talents for both good and evil. Seeing the characters discover his love really helped me grow in my relationship with God.
The first book spans a few weeks during which the Seven Houses, each of which has its own gift, come together to discuss the threat of the oncoming Empire – or deny the threat, as is the case for some of them. Selene learns about her gift and the violent history of her house. There is some action, mostly when Selene enters others’ dreams. Since she seeks out their darkest fears, these scenes are rather intense. The second book has least action of all, and is clearly more focused on Selene’s character development, especially in the spiritual and relationship areas. The action only really starts at the end, and isn’t really a lot, although there are some important developments. Book three is when the real action starts: the war is on, and there are a lot of fights. They aren’t very intense in the violence aspect, but the author manages to make them intense in other ways, which I’ll explain later.
Something that really stands out is the author’s love for people in this book: minor characters are treated with respect, not as mere plot devices. Usually, when a minor character in a book gets hurt, it happens to further the main characters’ development. This is the case here as well, but the minor characters are still treated as real people that deserve attention. Their tragic stories are important, not necessarily to the plot, but just because they are humans as well. This makes the dream sequences of the first book very intense: they aren’t treated merely as horrible for Selene to see, but as a horrible thing to happen to the servants whose dreams she’s infiltrating. Balancing on the edge of spoilers here, but be warned: one person has a nightmare of when they were raped, so when I say these scenes are hard to read, I mean it.
***Spoilers from now on; to avoid them, just skip to the conclusion***
At the end of the first book, there is a twist that I felt wasn’t built up enough: Damian of House Maris and Selene are on the run, and Damian has to “raise the water”. This means he uses his power to create a wall of water so others can’t cross the river. The thing is, apparantly the river will sweep Selene away if he does it near her since she isn’t part of his house. How do you make somebody a part of your house with only 5 minutes to spare before you both die? Hint: there is a priest present. Yeah, they get married. It had been mentioned earlier in the book that Damian’s father had raised a wall once which killed a bunch of robbers, but the reason for this wasn’t explained, so the fact that you can’t raise water when somebody outside of your house is present without it killing them was a bit of a surprise for me.
Since the marriage is one of convenience, the second book can be classified as a proper love story. I really liked how Damian and Selene are respectful of each other. Something I do find awkward with these marriages in books is that at one point, the characters will make the important decision to have the first kiss and – even more awkward – got to bed together. It’s a very important development that can’t be left out. Thankfully, the author stays on the side of decency, always cutting off the scene before anything serious happens. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any good romance scenes; the author just never takes it too far. There are some communication mishaps on the way to a good relationship, but the characters are really doing their best to be clear with each other, and in the end they have a very good relationship built on trust. I was glad to see a healthy relationship in a book for a change.
In the last book Selene fights the Dark Lady and, through the Light, defeats her. After this, it is said that the Dark Lady is no more and has no power unless people believe in and obey her. I did not feel this was very biblical, as Satan is said to be immortal, just like all the other angels. And sure, his power might be a lot less if people actively stopped worshiping demons, but it really won’t be gone until God takes it fully away from him. Another thing I didn’t agree with was what happened to Selene’s mother: after being defeated, she is basically broken. Instead of confining this woman who has killed countless people and has consistently chosen to do evil instead of good to some prison, Selene decides to take her in herself. This is, of course, fine, but the way her mother is portrayed after that suggests that her evilness was all the Dark Lady. She starts opening up again and is even decent to Selene. I get that this might happen, but it doesn’t seem very realistic considering how she is described as somebody who has completely given themselves over to bitter hatred.
I’m honestly really relieved to find out that there are good Christian fantasy books out there. Most of the spiritual messages in the Ravenwood Saga were biblically sound, but the plot itself was also just very good. It can be rather dark at times, but the Light’s presence is always there. The characters were well-developed and lovable, even when they made mistakes. The relationships and struggles the character had with the Light actually excited me to take more time with God. For the first time in a long while, I completely recommend these books.